Lynne Tillman

Lynne Tillman reflects on her new book

Left: Cover of Lynne Tillman’s Someday This WIll Be Funny (2011). Right: Lynne Tillman.

Lynne Tillman’s latest collection of short stories, titled Someday This Will Be Funny, was published this month by the new imprint Red Lemonade. The fiction editor of Fence, Tillman is the author of several novels and books of short fiction. She will read from her new book on May 10 at 192 Books.

ONE OF THESE STORIES was written a long time ago. “The Way We Are” was written around 1978, and it appeared without my name in a little magazine I was doing with a friend back then––Paranoids Anonymous Newsletter. It probably reached about three hundred people. Anyway, I decided to revise it a bit and put it in this book. There was another I fussed with more: The novella “Love Sentence” was published in the psychoanalytic journal American Imago in 1993. Thomas Keenan was guest editing an issue on love, and he asked me if I would write something. At the time, I thought it would be best to start by dissecting the sentence “I love you,” which led to my thinking about death sentence, the death sentence, and several other puns. In the 1980s and the early ’90s, there was a particular emphasis on writing with puns and other language games. Usually I let something stay as it was written, but in this case, the amount of punning unsettled me a bit. I thought that I went overboard, in unnecessary ways. Perhaps I was just being a little too tongue in cheek—I guess my tongue was outside my cheek, too.

Usually, I don’t have the impulse to revise a published piece. I look at the work I have done in the past with wonder, because I couldn’t do it now. And it’s neither better nor worse than what I’ve done recently; you write in a certain moment in your life and your experiences and ideas have reached a certain point at that time. Let’s just say you move on. It’s not “progress”; it’s something different. You don’t necessarily get better as you get older. If only. You have more of a sense of what the problems and possibilities are. I believe my craft is better, and I’ve allowed myself more choices.

By putting these stories together I could see the different ways they are related, but there are so many differences too. This question of the “family” or the association among the characters is hard for me to answer. I do like to work with male protagonists as well as female protagonists, and in this book you might notice more male voices than my previous short story collections. It’s also been lovely to work with Richard Nash from Red Lemonade [and formerly of Soft Skull Press], because I trust him totally as an editor. He ultimately chose what should go in this book and what shouldn’t. It’s most important to me that the ideas go beyond the words and live off the page––that’s what any writer wants, right? When I read something that I love, it haunts me for days, maybe years; sometimes it gets confusing and I find myself wondering, “Was that a dream or did I read that in a book?” In some ways, the kind of writing that gets embedded in your mind is a wonderful thing to strive for.

I think most writers would say that they are most involved with the book that they’re writing now, or that they’re trying to write now. I’m looking forward to Richard’s reprints of my books, but I have no idea how people will respond. So many books go out of print right away––at least many of mine have. In the ’80s, under Reagan, I think, a law went into effect that publishers would be taxed on their inventory. Suddenly they had to get rid of all the books they had in warehouses so that they wouldn’t have to pay money for them. The books were treated as income rather than as something that could potentially be income. So that really screwed things up, in the same way that under Reagan a lot of things got screwed up.

I hope most for Richard’s doing well, selling a lot, with the new press, more so than with my books. I’m not really interested in sales; I can’t be, though it’d be great. Most writers don’t sell that well, even if their reviews are great. Now with e-books and Kindle, I think there may be a renaissance in reading, and that’s really important. Loads of books can be on something portable and lightweight, and that is just so cool.